Donald Trump Rally - S.C.

Donald Trump supporters cheer during a campaign rally in Greenville, S.C., on Monday. (Olivier Douliery / TNS)

Noah Bierman and Lisa Mascaro
February 16, 2016

Robert Bowers, a 50-year-old debt collector, conceded that Donald Trump may have gone “overboard just a little bit” when he attacked President George W. Bush, saying he lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and failed to stop the Sept. 11 attacks.

But that did not stop Bowers, of Fountain Inn, S.C., from putting on a cap with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan and walking through an icy cold parking lot so he could crowd into a raucous Trump rally Monday night.

“He’s not a polished politician,” Bowers said, neatly summing up both Trump’s appeal and liability.

Early evidence suggests that Trump, as he has many times before, is maintaining his wide lead here despite criticism of his crude rhetoric, the latest example of which came in his attacks on Bush in Saturday’s debate and ever since. Though South Carolina has long prided itself on Southern manners and propriety, it is changing rapidly as outsiders increasingly move here. And Trump Nation may be immune to, and in some cases, even more than forgiving of his brash behavior.

“I hope he drops an F-bomb,” one fan said to another on the way into the rally.
Republicans campaign in South Carolina

One poll taken since the debate by Public Policy Polling, which works mostly for Democrats, shows Trump leading South Carolina’s Republican primary field by 17 percentage points, about the same lead he had going into the debate. His core support from about one in three Republicans remains steady here, in line with earlier national polling.

During past controversies, Trump’s supporters have stuck with him, believing his unvarnished criticism of immigrants, Muslims, women and Sen. John McCain’s war record shows he is willing to take on establishment interests and unwilling to bend to what he calls political correctness. Sometimes they agree with his comments, particularly on building a wall along the Southwestern border and barring Muslims from entering the country, according to polls. Sometimes they disagree but are more concerned with upending the political system.

“We’re voting with our middle finger,” said John Baldwin, a used-car dealer from Greenville.

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